From my standpoint as a gay veteran, it seems as though the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy will never reallygo away. The truth is that to most American’s the policy was confusing enough, and since the December repeal of the 17-year-old policy, many homosexual service members are still uncertain of where they stand and what rights they gained as a result. Personally, I’ve been pulling for this repeal for more than a decade; however, this hugely positive step in the direction of full equality has opened the door to many more questions and complicated many scenarios.
Ultimately, the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA is to blame. This was a measure enacted by congress and it alone bans the federal government (for service members this means their employer) from recognizing same-sex marriages. The same federal government that is now allowing homosexuals to serve openly. The same federal government that extends honor, benefits and gratitude to the families of these service members. Should a service member pursue a same-sex marriage at the state level, he or she would legitimately be caught in a catch 22.
By not legalizing same-sex marriage on a federal level, there are no requirements for marital or spousal acknowledgements beyond the rights (if any) granted within each state. If you are on active duty and marry your partner (of the same gender) in a state that recognizes it as a marriage, to the federal government you are still not married. So, even though you are allowed to serve your country as an openly “out” homosexual you are still denied the right to be equally committed, to receive equal benefits and to be recognized and honored as any other military family, all due to this nation’s gross marriage inequality, not to mention religious hangups.
According to an active-duty Air Force Technical Sergeant (who asked to remain anonymous), despite various homosexual tolerance briefings, staying closeted is preferred in these early stages of DADT’s repeal. Although this sergeant is married in a state that issues legal and equal same-sex marriage licenses, neither the current state of duty assignment nor the home of record state recognize this marriage as ANYTHING.
“I don’t trust telling leadership that I am married to a woman,” the sergeant said. “But, them knowing I am married won’t get a her a dependent ID card and there might be some prejudice towards me disguised as something else.” This comes from a sergeant who is within one year of retirement from a career of service to this nation. “I’ve been living this double life for so long and I guess I would just rather play it safe,” she said.
The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was, without a doubt, a victory for equality, human rights and ultimately for the nation – as gays and lesbians have successfully and patriotically served (closeted) in the armed forces for decades upon decades. This country’s inconsistencies as to who can legally marry and where it will be recognized are insufficient and demonstrate the need for changes on the federal level. As the repeal of this policy marches on and as states like New York continue to make strides toward actual marriage equality, a reexamination of this entire puzzle rather than just one piece is becoming more necessary.